Is the function of preaching the same as the office of the overseer? Absolutely not.
Some now argue “the function is the office,” apparently confining all the acts of the office of the pastor exclusively within the office itself. But according to Scripture and the first major Baptist documents, the office and some of its acts must be distinguished.
The Biblical View
Scripture teaches us that the office of the pastor does not dominate all the acts that a pastor does:
- Yes, pastors pray and teach and preach. Pastors also voice the dogmatic and disciplinary conclusions of the congregation with the congregation’s authority. But only the last act of the pastoral office—authoritative dogmatic proclamation—is confined to that office (Acts 15:13-21; 1 Timothy 2:12).
- According to Scripture, those qualified to be overseers or elders have several functions which are required of non-ordained Christians, that is all other Christians. These include, inter alia, being above reproach, a man being the husband of one wife, being self-controlled, etc. Surely, those theologians who now confine the functioning of an elder to the office of the elder would not dare to say the non-ordained Christian is released from being self-controlled or sensible or respectable (1 Timothy 3:1-4). It is similarly inappropriate to confine all acts of Christian proclamation to the elder.
- All may pray and preach in an orderly manner for the upbuilding of the church, as Paul reminds us was the custom of the early church in 1 Corinthians 11 and 14. Moreover, all Christian disciples were given the Great Commission of making disciples, which occurs only through forms of proclamation. Christ did not anywhere in Scripture confine his commission merely to the apostles nor to the church’s overseers. He gave it to all of his disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). The Word of God has its own self-authenticating authority. To claim otherwise is to begin a theological march back to Rome, perhaps through Wittenberg, Geneva, or Canterbury, but not necessarily ending in one of those lesser forms of extra-biblical ecclesiology.
A Baptist Viewpoint
As for Baptist theology, we note one tradition, though we could name many others who have been careful up to this point to refuse to return to the stifling morass of clericalism. Article 44 of the First London Confession discusses the office of overseer; article 45, the activity of preachers. Against the new clericalism, note these truths from foundational Baptist theology:
- Early Baptists rejected both Romanist and Magisterial Protestant forms of clericalism, distinguishing preaching from oversight.
- They also placed eldership within the congregation, refusing to countenance any type of elitism of one member over another. Mediation belongs exclusively to Jesus Christ, never to a mere man (1 Timothy 2:4).
- Finally, the earliest Baptists followed the Reformers in defining “prophecy” as preaching, according to its simple description in 1 Corinthians 14:3. This preaching is, of course, focused on and empowered by the Word of God. They did not reduce prophecy to oblivion through innovations like cessationism or enthusiasm, as with some modernist commentators.
The 1644/1646 Confession states:
XLIV. Christ for the keeping of this church in holy and orderly communion, placeth some special men over the church; who by their office, are to govern, oversee, visit, watch; so likewise for the better keeping thereof, in all places by the members, He hath given authority, and laid duty upon all to watch over one another.
XLV. Also such to whom God hath given gifts in the church, may and ought to prophecy according to the proportion of faith, and to teach publicly the word of God, for the edification, exhortation, and comfort of the church.